Ticket to Ride: a New Exhibit in Local History!

In summer 2016, the Local History Division of the Central Library acquired a collection of scrapbooks filled with photographs depicting the construction of the Rochester Industrial and Rapid Transit Railway, better known as the Rochester subway.


Construction of subway tunnel and Broad Street at corner of South Ave, 1923.

These ten scrapbooks, discovered in the basement of a historic building in Canandaigua, appear to have been part of the personal collection of former mayor Clarence D. Van Zandt. Van Zandt was mayor when the subway was planned and a major proponent of the rail system. The books contain more than 650 photographs, many of which have never been seen by contemporary Rochesterians.


Placing steel reinforcements, east of Caledonia Ave, 1923.

The photographs contained within the pages of these scrapbooks illustrate the various phases of the subway’s construction from 1922-1927, but they also provide further historical insight. In addition to portraying the individuals who labored to build the new transportation system, the photos present viewers with a unique glimpse into 1920s Rochester. Not only do the photographs offer early twentieth century views of some of Rochester’s best known structures and sites, but they also feature homes, businesses and factories that no longer grace the city’s landscape.


Paving the Winton Ave bridge just south of East Ave intersection, 1924.

The staff of the Local History Division decided to create an exhibit on the subway to share this incredible collection with the general public. While scrapbook photos comprise the majority of the exhibit’s materials, various ephemera such as maps, subway tokens and Mayor Van Zandt’s ceremonial silver spade have been included as well.

Contemporary photographs are also on display. One series documents some of the artwork that graces the walls of the aqueduct section of the former subway. Another provides current photographs of former subway station sites to give modern viewers a sense of where the subway operated and how much the city has changed since the system’s demise.


Looking east along subway route to Washington St., 1923.


Looking east along Broad St. to Washington St, 2016.


The exhibit aims not only to showcase our recently acquired photograph collection, but also to shed light on the subway’s complicated history. As library staff discovered in the course of our research, the Rochester subway had something of a bumpy ride. Conflicts marked the system’s 29-year run, from debates over whether or not the city should build such a system in the first place, to deliberations over who would operate the subway and whether or not it should be expanded. The subway’s post-operation history has also been fraught with controversy as disputes continue to arise over what should be done with the route’s remains.


Ticket to Ride: The Unsettled History of the Rochester Subway is now on display on the second floor of the Rundel Library.


-Emily Morry

Published in: on February 21, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Votes for Women!

In honor of the 2017 centennial celebration of New York State’s suffrage amendment, the Local History & Genealogy Division and the Friends & Foundation of RPL are co-hosting a Humanities NY Reading & Discussion program on the history of the woman suffrage movement. This 5-part series begins March 1. See our flyer for details and call 585-428-8368 to sign up today!

Published in: on February 17, 2017 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Valentines, Valentines Oh My!

Valentine’s Day has arrived on this 14th day in February. According to the Greeting Card Association 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year! One of the first Valentine Day greetings was sent in 1415. The Duke of Orleans (France) sent a written Valentine’s greeting to his wife while he was being held prisoner in the Tower of London. The Duke of Orleans fought in the battle of Agincourt.

bookscancenter_15The greeting was written in French: “Je suis desja d’amour tanne, Ma tres doulce Valentinee.” The translation for this is “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine.”

Another letter was written by a woman named Margery Brews in 1477. She sent this letter to her fiancé John Paston. In her letter she wrote “right well-beloved Valentine.” This is the oldest Valentine’s letter written in the English language.


Both of these letters are in the manuscript collections at the British Library. Through the years the tradition of sending letters and cards has continued. Below is a postcard that was sent approximately between the 1940’s and 195O’s.

The first Valentine’s Day cards were sent in the 1700’s. The cards were traditionally handmade because pre-made cards were not readily available like they are today. The cards were made with decorated paper and included romantic symbols with flowers and love knots. Some people added puzzles and short poems to the cards.

Pre-printed cards were created around 1797 in Great Britain. In the early 1800’s Valentine’s Cards were extremely popular in London and it was much easier to mass produce cards because of the innovations made with printing equipment. Approximately 200,000 Valentine Cards were mailed in London by 1820.

Did you know that the Local History & Genealogy Department at the Central Library has a collection of vintage Valentine’s Day Cards?  The Valentine Card tradition was popular in the United States by 1850.

The majority of the cards were donated by Emma Swift. Emma was the department head of the Local History & Genealogy Department from 1936 to 1965.  This collection consists of early cards created by Hallmark Cards and Whitney Made Cards.

Whitney-Made Cards was a company started by George C. Whitney in Worcester, Massachusetts.  George Whitney and his family created and produced Valentine Day Cards for 77 years. The cards were made with embossed lace borders and backgrounds or a thick card stock. The cards are decorative and colorful.

The Whitney-Made Cards are stamped Whitney-Made on the backs of the cards. The card below on the left is a Whitney-Made Card. The company that created the card on the right is not identified by a stamp. It resembles a Whitney-Made Card.



Whitney-Made Card

The Hallmark Card business was created by the Hall brothers Rollie and Joyce Clyde in 1910. It was originally known as the Hall Brothers. They started their business by selling postcards. People were not buying postcards too much so the Hall Brothers decided to produce and sell high quality made Valentine Day Cards. Hallmark Cards created and produced their first Valentine’s Day card in 1913.


Hallmark Cards

The Hall Brothers decided to change their business name to Hallmark in 1928. The name hallmark was used by the goldsmiths, which meant “mark of quality”. Since the name hallmark included hall and meant quality, Joyce Clyde fancied the name.

Here are more cards for you to enjoy viewing that are located in the Valentine Day Card collection.

Renee Kendrot




Published in: on February 14, 2017 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Daniel Furr, Austin Steward and Race in Rochesterville

March 21, 2017 will mark 200 years of Rochester as an incorporated village. Most discussions of its earliest days tend to center on white settlers, but the village also had a population of African Americans. What were racial attitudes like in 1817 Rochesterville? Let’s explore that experience through the lives of two of its earliest black residents.

One of these pioneers was Daniel Furr, a black man who moved to Rochesterville and fell in love with a white woman. She reciprocated his affection and they sought to marry, but no one in the village would officiate at their wedding. They resolved to go to Brighton, where the town magistrate there only reluctantly agreed to do so after hours of arguing. Not long after, while drinking with some white men that were supposedly his friends, Furr became violently ill. A doctor was summoned and gave him some concoction, but while he was leaving the doctor was heard to say that he was “as sure to die as though his head had been cut off.” And so it proved; Furr died shortly after. It was commonly believed Furr died of poisoning, although no one was ever charged. His wife and child died shortly thereafter.

A more famous black citizen was Austin Steward (1793?-15 February 1869), Rochester’s first black businessman.


A circa 1857 portrait of Austin Steward

Born a slave in Virginia, Steward was forcibly relocated to Bath, NY and liberated in Canandaigua through the assistance of local abolitionists. He first visited Rochester in 1816, settled here in 1817, and lived much of his life here.

In Spring 1816, when Steward first came to Rochesterville, he described the village as a “small, forbidding place … with few inhabitants, and surrounded by a dense forest.” While travelling through here, he encountered a white man driving a team of horses. The man maintained that Steward had no right to travel a public highway as did other men. Since he was already on the road, Steward was forced to keep behind him, as the man would not let him pass. Steward was delayed several hours in reaching his destination.

In the spring of 1817, Steward began peddling merchandise from a cart in Rochesterville. As markets were not plentiful at the time, business was profitable. Later that year he decided to settle in Rochester and go into business for himself, renting space to open a meat market and grocery. There were some butchers in the village who resented the competition. Several of them tore down his sign. When it was restored, others painted it black. These annoyances continued until Steward had one of their number arrested, which put an end to the harassment.

Rochester may later have had a reputation as a supportive community for African Americans (slave and free), but the historical record of the town’s earliest days presents a mixed picture of Rochester’s racial attitudes.

-Christopher Brennan


Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

In Search of Lost Speakeasies: Prohibition in Rochester, Pt. II

Not only were many of Rochester’s saloons “wide open” during Prohibition, they also existed in virtually every neighborhood in the city.

More often than not, streets in mixed-use areas contained more than one such establishment. On Front Street, though this is an extreme example, at least 10 businesses on the 100 block alone were raided during Prohibition.

This 1935 city plat map depicts the section in question, which ran from Market Street to Andrews Street (the Genesee Crossroads Garage now occupies much of this area):


Businesses at 109,113, 120, 126, 127, 128, 137, 143, 145 and 150 Front St were all raided by Prohibition agents.

In order to stay ahead of the law, speakeasy proprietors would sometimes move their business to a new nearby location to best serve their neighborhood’s residents.

After suffering four raids, Michael Lomio, who owned a saloon at 524 Jay Street, furnished a door at the rear of his building facing Orchard Street.  Though the tactic worked temporarily, authorities caught on to the maneuver and by 1929 had busted Lomio at his “new” establishment at 212 Orchard Street.

The Jay Street edifice was torn down years later, a fate which befell many former speakeasies across the city. Some sites were replaced with vacant lots, others with housing complexes and still others with commercial and industrial buildings.

Collegetown now marks the site where Benedict Spiegel’s somewhat notorious hotel—it was raided at least 4 times—once stood. An exclusive speakeasy called the “Viper Club” occupied the third floor of an East Avenue edifice located where the IRS building stands now.  Just a few blocks away on Swan Street, Louis Dustin ran a “beer flat” (a speakeasy maintained in an apartment or private room) at the approximate location of the Eastman School of Music’s Hatch Recital Hall.

Other former speakeasies were saved from the dustbin of history and still grace the streets of Rochester, though many have been repurposed.

This former “scofflaw” haunt at the corner of Joseph and Pardee is now a house of worship.


Rochester residents once bought illicit beer at Harold O’Brien’s cigar shop speakeasy at 819 Clinton Avenue North. Now they can purchase it legally at the grocery store which currently occupies the building.


This former saloon at the corner of Hudson and Weaver run by Polish immigrant Felix Rogowicz, is now home to some of his brethren at the Polish American Citizens Club.



In 1933, a padlock barred hooch hunters from entering Frank T. Frank’s speakeasy at the corner of South and Gregory. Now Rochesterians are free to do their taxes in the building.


Rochester residents can also frequent formerly forbidden saloons that are still operating as bars today.

The onetime South Goodman Street headquarters of the Monroe Social Club, which was busted for having both booze and slot machines in the early 1930s, is now occupied by the Scotch House.



An erstwhile “soft drink” purveyor at the corner of Clinton and Meigs is now home to the Firehouse Saloon.


Just a few blocks down from the Firehouse lies Dicky’s, a saloon dating back to the late 19th century. Prohibition agents found 57 gallons of cider on the premises during just one of several raids the Meigs Street bar endured.


One of the city’s most notorious speakeasies is also still standing today.


The Lyell Avenue building now occupied by Tucci’s, was known alternately in the Prohibition era as the Daylight Inn, The Twilight Inn and the Motor inn depending on the time of day it was frequented. It was formally listed in the city directory as John Brown, Soft Drinks. The establishment’s official moniker did not fool  Prohibition agents, who launched four raids on the joint between 1932 and 1933 and issued the business two padlocks in as many years.



-Emily Morry


Published in: on January 31, 2017 at 5:05 pm  Comments (1)  

In Search of Lost Spirits: Prohibition in Rochester, Pt. I


Ninety-Seven years ago this month, Rochesterians were experiencing the nascent stages of that “noble experiment,” Prohibition.

The 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol in the United States, went into effect on January 17th, 1920. News of the impending law did not prompt a spate of binge drinking in Rochester in the weeks before its enactment, nor did the city witness a steep decline in alcohol consumption following its implementation.

Rochesterians for the most part, did not give up alcohol in the face of Prohibition, they just found more creative (if illegal) ways to obtain it.

Some industrious citizens took it upon themselves to shore up their own sources of alcohol, cooking up home brews and (sometimes dubious) liquors in the bathrooms, attics and basements of their private residences.


An underground whiskey still at 15 Saunders Street


Others established larger scale brewing and distilling operations, turning handsome profits in the process.

William Rund, whose family later founded the Rund restaurant chain, ran one of several breweries that existed in the area. Rund’s operation produced 400 gallons of beer a week. He was able to gross 80,000 dollars a month, in part by buying the silence of Prohibition agents at a weekly rate of 2,000 dollars.

In addition to spawning a pirate industry of alcohol manufacturers in Rochester, Prohibition also witnessed the development of a league of alcohol smugglers. Rochester’s lake access and proximity to Canada, where alcohol still flowed freely, turned the city into a major bootlegging hub.

Both imported alcohol products and domestic beverages found their way to a host of makeshift taverns across the city.

Many of these locales were the same places where Rochesterians had enjoyed alcoholic beverages prior to Prohibition. Some reinvented themselves (on the surface at least) as soft drink emporiums in the wake of the 18th Amendment, while others maintained their saloon status–at least from a titular standpoint–for a number of years.

Fifty-Five businesses were still listed as “Saloons (Soft Drinks)” in the Rochester City Directory in 1924. It wouldn’t be until the following year that the word “Saloon” was dropped entirely from the publication’s pages.


1922  City Directory listing


1924 Directory listing




While former saloons and restaurants formed the bulk of Rochester’s alcohol dispensaries, speakeasies also sprung up in a range of commercial and residential properties throughout the city. Apartments, houses and garages served as makeshift barrooms as did hotels, social clubs, barber shops, cigar stores and groceries.

One 1931 raid uncovered half a barrel of beer in a Monroe Avenue establishment fronting as a bookstore.

The spring of that year proved to be one of the wettest seasons of Rochester’s “dry” years. In the month of March alone, Prohibition agents raided 24 speakeasies, dismantled 4 breweries and dumped 120 barrels of beer (the equivalent of almost 30,000 pints!) into Rochester’s sewers.


Rochester Property Clerk Joseph Sheridan pours confiscated liquor down a sewer, 1921.

Many speakeasy proprietors found the minimal fines and temporary closures they endured after raids to be negligible compared to the money they were raking in selling illicit hooch. And often enough such potent potable peddlers were able to curry favour with local law enforcement agents for a fee. Some police officers were in fact patrons of the very illegal institutions they were charged with eliminating.

In June 1932, four deputy sheriffs were suspended when they were discovered drinking in an East Main Street speakeasy at 10 in the morning, uniforms in tow. Sheriff William C. Stallknecht indicated that he had warned the deputies to “keep out of such places except in performance of duty.”

But much to Sheriff Stallknecht’s dismay, “such places” were ubiquitous in Rochester—one Exchange Street speakeasy was but a stone’s throw from the RPD’s  headquarters—and the numbers of federal men charged with their elimination, were few.

When the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed on December 12th, 1933, the event was met with little fanfare in Rochester, undoubtedly in part because most residents hadn’t had to forego Prohibition’s forbidden fruits entirely, if at all.

As one speakeasy owner later recalled, “I don’t think it was such a celebration. Hell, the saloons in Rochester were wide open anyway!”


-Emily Morry





Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

And in the End…Mourning a Musical Icon


This is the headline that greeted readers of the Democrat and Chronicle thirty-six years ago on December 9th, 1980.

The news of John Lennon’s assassination the night before proved devastating to a generation of Rochesterians who had come of age listening to the artist’s canon.

Red Creek proprietor, Jeff Springut, admitted, “I feel hurt. I grew up with the Beatles. It would be like losing Benny Goodman would be to my parents.”

Local radio station personalities alternately played the role of disc jockey and therapist as they fielded calls from shocked fans.

“A lot of people are calling in disbelief. They’ll still be calling next week and asking if it’s true,” explained Uncle Roger of WCMF. The station (and others in the area) put Lennon’s music on heavy rotation after receiving the report of his death.

Not all Rochester music fans were equally affected. The bartender at the Friar’s Inn disco club noted that patrons were surprised at the news, but were otherwise nonplussed.

The ex-Beatle nevertheless made an indelible impact on the broader community as evidenced by the hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds who attended a hastily organized vigil in Manhattan Square Park on December 10th.

Mourners bearing thermoses of coffee, “jazz cigarettes” and beer bottles couched in brown paper bags huddled together and listened to a series of speakers and the musical offerings of their beloved hero.

One Harvard Street resident attending the memorial observed, “It’s ironic that he was killed at this time. He was a survivor. He got through the 60s. He disappeared for the 70s and it looked like he was coming back with a voice for the 80s. But that got cut short.”


Mourners at Manhattan Square Park

In addition to mourning the music and life of the British icon, many fans decried the attempts to cash in on Lennon’s death in the days and weeks that followed the tragic event.

Dismayed by the proliferation of souvenirs and commemorative products that had flooded the market in the wake of Lennon’s passing, one disappointed female fan wrote in a letter to the D&C’s editor:

“They are starting the same kind of garbage they pulled on Elvis. Is there no respect for the dead anymore? Both men gave the American people happiness and more unity than the last three presidents.”

The relatively poor sales of Lennon commemorative memorabilia compared to sales of Elvis ephemera following his death in 1977 was perhaps unsurprising given the fact that Lennon had famously idealized a world with “no possessions” in one of his best known songs.

In order to deter further exploitation of the recently deceased musician, one local business owner launched a boycott of all Lennon memorabilia produced after his murder.

Laura Senft, the proprietor of Play it Again Sam Records on Monroe Avenue, founded her Dignity After Death (D.A.D.) organization after a salesman contacted her offering to stock her store with John Lennon frisbees.

By January of 1981, Senft’s consumer boycott and petitioning efforts had inspired similar campaigns in 20 states and parts of Canada.

Rather than profit from his loss, Senft paid tribute to Lennon with a simple handwritten sign in her store window that expressed the sentiments of many:



-Emily Morry

Published in: on December 8, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)  

The Kodak City goes to War: Rochester’s Aerial Photography School

Aerial photography can be traced back to 1858 when a French photographer named Gaspard-Felix Tournachon captured an image of Paris while riding in a  hot-air balloon. The field developed further in the late 19th century  with the use of kites.

But aerial photography as we know it today, really progressed during World War I, thanks in part to the Eastman Kodak Company.

Both the Allied and Central Powers were engaging in aerial image capturing before the United States entered the war in 1917, but the Rochester-based firm nevertheless contributed to both the development of, and instruction in, the new techonology.

Kodak not only created the Kodak A-2 aerial camera which was widely used during the war, but it also instigated the establishment of the U.S. Aerial Photography School in Rochester.

In early 1918, the company offered the federal government two acres of floor space of its new building at Kodak Park to serve as the school’s barracks, dark rooms, class rooms and lecture halls.

The local YMCA and Knights of Columbus organizations jointly proposed to construct a recreation hall by the campus outfitted with a library, a billiards room and a “Liberty Theatre,” to meet the entertainment needs of the young recruits.

Mayor Edgerton in turn offered up the section of Genesee Valley Park known as Baker Field to house an airplane hangar.

The hangar would not host a flying school, nor would the airplanes’ camera operators be the ones attending the Kodak Park institution.

Aerial camera operators did not actually have a hand in developing and printing photographs. This work, done by “ground men,” was to be the focus of the Kodak Park school.


Announcing the establishment of the new institution in early 1918, the U.S. Signal Corps sent a bulletin to local draft boards indicating, “The camera is playing a very important part in the war of 1917, and the Signal Corps is organizing the largest and most up-to-date photographic division in the world. The corps is calling on amateurs and professionals to aid the reconnaissance and to help write the story of the war in pictures.”

The school’s Commandant, Captain Charles Betz, proclaimed: “This is an admirable opportunity for men with photographic experience to turn in and do their part. Rochester, the Kodak City, should do its share, and I am certain it will give us two hundred students.”

A considerable number of Rochesterians were among the thousands of amateur and professional photographers who applied to the school.

The first recruits arrived to the Kodak Park campus in March, 1918 and were given instruction in military drill and trained in the school of the soldier well before they were schooled in aerial photography.


Inspection at Kodak Park

Students then underwent a highly intensive 4-week course specializing in photo developing and printing as well as camera repair. Recruits learned how to develop film under time constraints and in varying climates and conditions in order to prepare them for the challenges of working with film in special vehicles close to enemy lines.


Aerial Photo of Highland Park by Private Prongay

Armistice was announced just eight months after the Kodak school opened. When demobilization of the Aerial School began in December 1918, it was the last military unit left in the city.

Though the institution was short-lived, its impact on the war effort was nevertheless significant. By the time it officially closed on January 1st, 1919, the Kodak school was responsible for having trained more than 2,500 people in the art of aerial photography.


-Emily Morry

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Haunting at Haag House


The serene appearance of this elegant Scio Street property belies the building’s more mysterious and sinister past.

The Second Empire-style house was originally the family residence of Bernard Haag, who moved to Rochester from his native Bavaria in 1849 at the age of eighteen. A skilled butcher, Haag found work in his trade around town before he opened his own meat market on the corner of Scio and East Main Streets in the 1850s.

He later built this neighboring three-story house on Scio Street.


This 1888 Plat Map shows Haag’s house and neighboring retail property

Therein, the affable Haag hosted myriad events. His daughter Louisa held her wedding at the home in 1881. In 1907, Haag’s grand-daughters Emilie and Gertrude made their debut at a lavish party attended by 70 people hailing from all over the country. The house also witnessed several of Bernard’s birthday celebrations, which became an annual tradition for several years until his death in 1919.

Bernard’s sons Benjamin and George had taken over their father’s market several years before. Benjamin in particular excelled at his father’s trade, becoming president of the Rochester Retail Butchers Mutual Protective Association in 1896 as well as the president of the Rochester Hide, Skin and Fat Melting Association in 1900.


A circa 1910 image of the Haag property.

The brothers maintained the family business until 1912, after which the store went through several owners. In 1924, entrepreneur Ranford Wilson purchased the entire Haag property including the retail space and the Scio Street house. The following year, he constructed a storefront around the Victorian house and placed a yellow brick façade over the original red brick market building.

Building storefronts in front of homes was a common occurrence in the 1920s in burgeoning business districts such as Main Street and Lyell Ave, as it allowed retail developers to avoid having to tear down historic houses.

Ranford Wilson renamed his revamped property the Wilshire building.  An array of businesses and shops greeted passersby at ground level, while the upper floors contained apartments. The former Haag family residence served as the Wilshire’s offices.


This 1935 Plat Map evinces the post-1925 metamorphosis of the  Haag property.

The Victorian home’s façade wouldn’t be seen again for another 60 years. In 1987, a local developer purchased the Haag property with an eye to repurpose the building into an upscale restaurant and office space.


The former Haag property just prior to its uncovering in 1987.

But as renovators uncovered the hidden house, they also unearthed something truly unsettling.

One worker shoveling debris from the ceiling  received the shock of his life when he spotted a leg bone with a foot attached. The bone had fallen from the space between the first floor ceiling and second floor’s floor. When the second floor was torn up, three other bones, presumably from arms and legs, were  discovered. By the time investigators concluded their search of the building, about 25 bones of varying sizes-including an entire lower leg with mummified skin and toenails- had been uncovered at the scene.

The forensic scientists assigned to the case in 1988 drew several conclusions after subjecting the evidence to a barrage of tests. They determined that the bones had come from three different individuals, a man over 50 and two women in their 40s. They hypothesized that the victims had been murdered as long as 100 years before and that considering how well the body parts had been preserved, the bones must have been hidden during winter time and “freeze-dried.” The bones appeared to have been professionally cut by a meat saw, like the kind found in a butcher shop. And perhaps most disturbingly, the scientists  indicated that the victims may have been dismembered prior to their death.

Though the forensic experts were able to uncover a wealth of information from the gruesome evidence, three major questions remained unanswered: Who were the murder victims? Who had killed them? And how?

Investigators at the time noted that the case would remain open despite its age, but that without additional evidence, they might never be able to unravel the 100 year old mystery.

Happy Halloween!


-Emily Morry

Published in: on October 31, 2016 at 5:50 pm  Comments (2)  

It was 60 Years Ago Today: Rochester Reacts to the Hungarian Revolution


Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. The 13-day uprising was sparked by students in Budapest, who protested the repressiveness of Hungary’s Soviet-controlled government and the ongoing presence of Soviet troops, who had occupied the country since the end of World War II.


Stalin’s statue, pulled to the ground by Hungarian freedom fighters

The revolt drew support from Americans, who lauded the Hungarians’ attempts to overthrow their Communist oppressors. Part of the Eisenhower administration’s Cold War policy had been to encourage European inhabitants of the satellite states to take up arms to break away from the Eastern bloc. But much to the disappointment of many Hungarians, whose resources and manpower were dwarfed by those of the Soviets, the United States did not reinforce this policy with military assistance and the Revolution was quelled on November 10th, 1956.

Americans across the country, including those residing in Rochester, nevertheless provided other forms of support to Hungarians who had escaped the country and as well as those remaining in Eastern Europe.

Local chapters of major organizations such as the American Red Cross as well as religious groups such as the Catholic Family Center, took the lead in organizing fundraising efforts and clothing drives.

Rochesterians of Hungarian descent, such as the members of the Hungarian-American Club, also readily took actions to assist their brethren. One local chef who had fled Hungary in 1949, planned a special all-Hungarian menu at his Dewey Avenue restaurant in order to raise money for the cause.

“I felt, how shall I say it, personally involved in the fighting,” Continental Restaurant proprietor Oscar Szanta informed the Democrat & Chronicle, “You see, I know Budapest so well. Every picture run in the newspapers, every scene shown on television—I know the streets, I recognize the buildings.”

But even Flower City residents with no ties overseas were moved by the Hungarians’ struggle.

When waiters and waitresses at Eddie’s Chop House decided to give their Christmas bonus that year for refugee relief, the restaurant’s proprietors matched their employees’ total. Elementary students at School 29 opted to donate the money that was going to be used for their annual Christmas party to the Hungarian Relief fund.Edwards’ department store offered to give  5 dollars of every appliance purchase over 30 dollars to the cause. Sibley’s launched a drive for warm clothing and blankets. Hickey-Freeman pledged jobs to any Hungarian refugees that ended up in Rochester.


“Help!” reads this poster for Sibley’s clothing drive, designed by Hungarian refugee, Joseph Bors.

About 250 of the 200,000 Hungarians who fled the country in the wake of the Revolution made their home here.

After arriving in Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, refugees traveled by train to Rochester, where they received room and board at the Manger Hotel until they could be placed with a sponsor family.

The majority of the refugees were young men, most of whom were eager to find employment so they could start their new lives in the West: “I wish to make my way, to be dependent upon no one, to pay myself,” one émigré explained.

Many Hungarians were taken by the generosity of Rochester residents, who had offered up homes, clothing and jobs to the newcomers. Mrs. Alfred Nunzy, a 22-year-old woman who had carried her 2-year-old son 15 miles to the Austrian border before relocating to America, exclaimed: “I never believed that there could be so much brotherly love, that people could be so wonderful.”

Sandor Pikacs, the first Hungarian refugee to arrive in Rochester in 1956, expressed what many of his exiled countrymen were feeling when he informed a local reporter, “I feel so thankful to be in America. I have to pinch myself to be sure that all this is real. I would like to take off my hat and thank everybody I meet on the streets for letting me come here.”


-Emily Morry

Published in: on October 21, 2016 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment